Empty Bed in Nursing Home

National health spending on nursing care dropped 7.8% in 2020 compared with the previous year, according to a health sector economic indicator brief released Friday by nonprofit research and consulting group Altarum.

The decline was second only to that in dental services, which dropped 15.2% from 2019. The greatest increase was in home health care, which grew by 6%.

Overall, national health spending declined by 2% in 2020 – the first annual decline since at least 1960, when the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services first began tracking national health expenditures. The firm found that year-over-year growth for the month of December was flat at 0%. 

Amid the decrease in spending, a separate brief also released Friday by Altarum showed that healthcare prices spiked again in January, beginning 2021 at a year-over-year growth rate of 2.6%. That’s higher than the average observed in 2020 (2.3%), which was already above the overall long-term trend.

The brief found that price growth for healthcare services continues to be the major contributor to overall growth with many of the major categories at or near the fastest rate seen in at least the past 10 years: January nursing home care prices increased 3.3% year over year, hospital prices rose 4.2%, and physician prices rose 3.2%.

On the opposite end, price growth for prescription drugs was negative, matching the prior month’s rate of –2.4%.